Imminent funding decisions must protect the NHS
22 June 2020
NHS Providers has warned that there is a real risk of the health service being overwhelmed in a winter COVID-19 second surge if the government makes the wrong decisions on funding NHS capacity for the rest of the year.
The warning comes as the government is due to decide this week on funding levels for the NHS for the months ahead.
NHS Providers, which represents all NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services has highlighted three key decisions which now need to be made:
- whether funding to treat NHS patients in the new Nightingale hospitals and the private sector is continued, scaled back or withdrawn
- whether community services funding will be raised to match the increased level of demand due to COVID-19 rehabilitation needs and looking after patients discharged from hospital to create COVID-19 capacity
- whether more funding will be given to mental health trusts to build capacity to treat the rapid rise in COVID-19 related mental health cases that are already starting to arrive.
Trust leaders are worried that services could be overwhelmed if a second COVID-19 surge coincides with winter and the current extra NHS capacity from the Nightingale hospitals and the independent sector is no longer available.
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said:
“In the early phase of the pandemic the whole country made huge sacrifices to bear down on infection and protect the NHS.
“Trusts and frontline health and care staff showed huge resourcefulness, flexibility and commitment to get us through the initial surge.
“Creating the extra capacity required a huge effort, adapting buildings, retraining staff, adopting new ways of working, and building on relationships with local partners to ensure services were not overwhelmed.
“The decisions to fund extra private sector support and set up the Nightingale hospitals were a key part of that success.
“The obstacles the NHS faced then were huge, but trust leaders believe the challenges ahead are even greater.
“COVID-19 remains a potent threat. In the coming months trusts will need to keep capacity to deal with a second surge, maintain strict infection control, continue to treat COVID patients and restore normal services such as routine operations.
"Trusts are facing massive reductions in capacity - up to 40% in some cases - due to the need to separate coivd and non covid areas and create socially distanced wards and A&E departments.
"Although the NHS has the same number of buildings and staff, these restrictions will mean many fewer operations, diagnostic tests and beds.
“Forward planning conducted by trusts over the last month indicates that the nightmare scenario is a second covid-19 surge coinciding with winter when the NHS always struggles to keep up with demand.
“We have heard similar warnings of the risks of a second peak in winter from senior government scientific and medical advisers.
"Maintaining the extra capacity of the Nightingale Hospitals and the private sector for the rest of the year is therefore vital.
"And ensuring community and mental health services are fully funded for the extra demand they are now experiencing is just as important.
“The last thing we should do now is start dismantling our defences, re-opening the risk of the health service being overwhelmed.
“This is the moment for the government to heed its own advice and continue protecting the NHS.”